CiF Watch Special Report: Latest Assault on Israel’s legitimacy, ‘Air Flotilla 2’, April 15th, 2012

A guest post by Hadar Sela (this report may also be viewed on scribd by clicking here)

Hot on the heels of the ‘Global March to Jerusalem’ will come yet another event designed to continue the assault on Israel’s legitimacy – the April 15th ‘Air Flotilla 2’ (also known as ‘Welcome to Palestine’) or flytilla‘ as last year’s  (Hamas approved) similar event was dubbed.

Once again, the aim is to have large numbers of international “activists flying in to Ben Gurion airport on one day – in the words of the organisers – as part of the “challenge to Israel’s illegal siege of Palestine”.

“There is no way into Palestine other than through Israeli control points. Israel has turned Palestine into a giant prison, but prisoners have a right to receive visitors.

Welcome to Palestine 2012 will again challenge Israel’s policy of isolating the West Bank while the settler paramilitaries and army commit brutal crimes against a virtually defenceless Palestinian civilian population.”

The similarity of the methodology and rhetoric of this project to that of the Global March to Jerusalem is no coincidence; several of the organisers and endorsers are mutual to both campaigns.  In fact, Mazin Qumsiyeh recently put out calls for volunteers for both projects on his blog, claiming that over 1,500 Europeans have already purchased tickets for April 15th whilst the overall target number appears to be 2,500.

Endorsers of the Air Flotilla include occasional Guardian contributor and ‘Right to Enter activist Sam Bahour, Tony Benn (controversial president of the ‘Stop the War Coalition’ which was involved in the GMJ) , Noam Chomsky (a GMJ endorser), Nazareth-based former Guardian journalist  Jonathan Cook, ‘Free Gaza’ and ISM activist Hedy Epstein and PA Ambassador Manuel Hassassian (whose mission promoted the Global March to Jerusalem).

Also on board are Ronnie Kasrils (a GMJ endorser), Nurit Peled, John Pilger, Jean Ziegler, Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb ( a GMJ endorser), Susan Abulhawa (a GMJ endorser), Ali Abunimah (whose ‘electronic Intifada’ is promoting the Air Flotilla), Mustafa Barghouti (a GMJ organizer), Abdelfattah Abu Srour of the Al Rowwad Culltural Centre (which supported the 2011 flytilla and the GMJ) and Desmond Tutu (also a GMJ endorser).

Mustafa Barghouti’s ‘Palestinian National Initiative was also an endorser of the Global March to Jerusalem, as was The Siraj Centre (where Mazin Qumsiyeh is a member of the board) and the Palestine Justice Network which is currently involved in the organization of the Air Flotilla. The Palestine Justice Network solicits donations through the International Solidarity Campaign-linked ‘Palestinian Centre for Rapprochement between People’, of which Qumsiyeh is head.

In April 2011 the Palestine Justice Network launched its ‘One State Initiative’ and as can be seen from the endorsements, many of the names also appear on the list of those supporting or organising the ‘Welcome to Palestine’ campaign, as well as on the list of signatories of the Stuttgart Declaration.

In short, as was the case with the organisers of the Global March to Jerusalem, the Air Flotilla initiators are united by their rejection of the internationally-accepted route of negotiations aimed at leading to a two-state solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict. Their aim is an imposed ‘one-state solution’ which would result in the end of self-determination for the Jewish people.

A list of foreign organisations endorsing the Air Flotilla – predominantly from the United Kingdom – can be seen here. Among the individual endorsers is Maha Rahwanji of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign executive committee. The PSC was of course heavily involved in the organization of the Global March to Jerusalem. Something of Rahwanji‘s mindset can be understood from her Twitter timeline.

Unsurprisingly, the Iranian regime-linked ‘Islamic Human Rights Commission’ based in the UK is also promoting the ‘Welcome to Palestine’ project, as is Iran’s ‘Press TV’ – according to which “[t]his year, the Welcome to Palestine movement aims to overwhelm Israeli officials by its sheer number of members”.

Purveyor of anti-Semitic cartoons Carlos Latuff presented a gift to the campaign:

The ‘Welcome to Palestine’ campaign has no qualms about using the false – and highly charged – canard of ‘apartheid’ on its official website in order to curry support.

“Plans are underway to challenge Israeli apartheid during 2012 by having a large number of international activists land in Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion airport.”

The campaign’s supporting Twitter account – described as an ‘awareness campaign’ – goes even further, propagating lies and descending into anti-Semitic Nazi analogies.

The end-game of the ‘Welcome to Palestine’ Air Flotilla is, however, revealed in this Tweet:

One of the people operating the ‘Airflotilla2’ Twitter account and its online campaign in general is Gaza Strip-born Ayman Qwaider who is currently resident in Spain.

Before leaving Gaza to study abroad, Qwaider worked for the ‘European Campaign to End the Siege on Gaza’ – a Hamas/Muslim Brotherhood project which is headed by UK-based Hamas operative  Mohammed Sawalha. Sawalha was instrumental in the organization of both the 2010 and 2011 flotillas and was also one of the organisers of the Global March to Jerusalem.

Ayman Qwaider has written for the Palestine Telegraph which is operated by Sameh Habeebwho is also spokesman for the Muslim Brotherhood’s ‘European Campaign to End the Siege on Gaza’ and connected to the Hamas-linked Palestinian Return Centre based in London which is proscribed by Israel.  Last year Qwaider was active in the flotilla campaign on behalf of the ‘Spanish Boat to Gaza’, including giving a talk at a Spanish university.

Part of the online support campaign for the ‘Airflotilla2’ initiative includes an e-mail campaign aimed at members of Parliament.

“Palestinians resist.  The British Government, however, joins with Israel to isolate the Palestinians while they are being dispossessed.  The UK Government, for example, refused to support the recent successful Palestinian bid to join UNESCO in the teeth of bitter US and Israeli opposition. The UK Government has also signalled it will oppose the Palestinian bid for full membership of the UN.

When our governments endorse illegal Israeli occupation, concerned citizens need to take action.”

The main difference between the Airflotilla2 and the Global March to Jerusalem is that the former is designed to appeal primarily – though not exclusively to European audiences, as reflected in its campaigning and publicity which includes websites and advertising in various European  languages.

FRANCE : contact@bienvenuepalestine.com
UK : uk@bienvenuepalestine.com
SPAIN : pazahora1@gmail.com
ITALY : benvenutinpalestina2012@gmail.com
BELGIUM : bienvenuepalestine.wallonie.be@gmail.com / et pour Bruxelles (Brussels) : welcomepalestinebelgium@yahoo.com
GREECE : greece@welcometopalestine.info
USA: palestine2012us@gmail.com
PALESTINE : jneno@ejepal.org (school project) and info@palestinejn.org

In the Netherlands, Electronic Intifada’s Adri Nieuwhof appears to be utilising her connections within the ‘human rights’/international aid community in order to publicize the project.

Several of the ‘Airflotilla2’ organisers took part in last year’s failed flytilla including Myriam de Ly and David Dupire from Belgium and Mick Napier of the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign.

Events were held in Paris , Brussels and other European cities earlier this year to promote the campaign.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=m-l4EOfYsrs#!]

The final speaker in the video – Jaques Neno of the EJE (Les Enfants, le Jeu et l’Education) is also one of the project’s organisers, along with George N Rishmawi – co-founder of International Solidarity Movement (ISM), head of the International Middle East Media Center (IMEMC), coordinator of the Siraj Centre and a former board member of the Palestinian Centre for Rapprochement between Peoples. As stated above, Airflotilla2 and GMJ organizer Mazin Qumsiyeh is connected to both the latter organisations.

Neno tells potential participants that they should expect three possible scenarios. The first is that they will get arrested.  In that case, according, to him “you have won because when Israel puts you in prison it shows how it becomes more and more fascist”.

The second scenario involves the activists being prevented from boarding their flights at the point of departure, as happened in many cases in 2011, but which Neno appears to consider unlikely this year. The third scenario is that they will reach their destination.

Obviously, provocation and bad public relations for Israel are yet again the real name of the game and several factors suggest that this latest publicity stunt aimed at undermining Israel’s legitimacy should not be taken lightly.

One of these factors is the date which, although originally planned to coincide with the anniversary of the death of ISM activist Vittorio Arrigoni, is also the day after the end of the Pessach holiday when Ben Gurion airport will be particularly busy with a large volume of travelers. For example, the UK airline Jet2 has added an additional flight to its usual schedule on that day which is probably aimed at returning Pessach visitors to Manchester, but is likely to be used by ‘Airflotilla2’ activists from Scotland and the north of England.

Another factor is the unverified claim by ‘Welcome to Palestine’ organisers (Palestine Justice Network) that following the 2011 flytilla during which the majority of activists were not permitted to board their flights, “[a]s a result of legal challenges, many European airlines not only fully refunded the tickets, but also agreed not to repeat the incident.”  In the event that airlines will refuse to transport the activists, demonstrations are already being planned.

The International Solidarity Movement in France is already very indignant regarding a statement put out recently by the French Foreign Ministry advising its citizens not to take part in the ‘Airflotilla2’.

The British government has similarly advised against participation in the project, but such recommendations are unlikely to make much of an impression on these activists, as can be seen by the reaction of the French organisers.

“We have no illusions about our leaders and the fact they eat in the hand of the Israeli occupation. We know how they behaved in July, and more generally how they refuse to apply international law and the principle of reciprocity, then they leave to enter France all Israelis who wish, including criminals war. They do not even defend French diplomats when they are humiliated, beaten or injured by the police or the IDF.”

“The method of intimidation will not work. Participants in the mission “Welcome to Palestine” have the right, justice and morality on their side. And they are aware of the seriousness of the situation for the Palestinians, every day more persecuted and dispossessed. They are not ashamed to go visit them. And to do head high, without lying, without going into the game of the occupant, which would wipe out Palestine and the Palestinians.

Gentlemen of the Quai d’Orsay, gentlemen of the government, history will record that you do not have much dignity.”

On the publicity front, the involvement of Ali Abunimah in this campaign means that we are likely to see a far more intense level of activity, particularly on social networks, than was the case with the Global March to Jerusalem which Abunimah and others shunned.

UPDATE, April 11th:

The full ‘Welcome to Palestine’ programme of events can be seen here. The stated aims of the project – building a school and a museum and refurbishing a kindergarten – appear to be confined to one day of activity, with the rest of the week’s visit dedicated to trips to various destinations and a seminar on the subject of “How to End the Occupation?”.

The organisation hoping to build a museum on the history of Palestinian refugees is the Al Rowwad Centre which was also involved in the organisation of the 2011 flytilla, is party to the BDS movement and was an endorser of the Global March to Jerusalem. Pictured below is one of its vehicles, bearing a logo which clearly rejects a negotiated two-state solution.

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